CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Anja Contreras lost her son, Asante, nearly two years ago. The 20-year-old EMT was driving home in May 2020, when he was killed in a head-on collision.
“You feel really isolated in that grief, because you don’t think anybody else understands,” she said. “Grief doesn’t get better. Yesterday was Asante’s birthday, he would’ve been 22.”
Asante was registered as an organ donor, part of him went to someone else so that they could live.
“It’s hard, but a part of you is really happy that a part of your son can keep going,” Contreras said.
Contreras is not alone in her grief. According to the CDC, around 8,000 deceased donors provide organs in the country each year.
Southwest Transplant Alliance, one of three organizations that works with organ donations in Texas, recently started offering free counseling to the families of loved ones who have donated organs through the organization.
“I think there are so many different aspects of the grief continuum, and every family deals with it in a different way,” said COO Sandi Lemons.
Lemons said STA originally offered the service, through TaskHuman, to its employees, to offer them support and counseling during the pandemic.
“It just blew up, to be honest with you, our staff was like, ‘wow this is so great,’” she said.
Lemons said since the service was so well received by employees, STA expanded it to include grieving families, to talk about their loved ones and the life they gave to someone else.
“It’s to help them celebrate, but also to help them grieve, to help them work through that journey, it’s kind of like a coach on the sideline,” she said.
Contreras’ son did not donate through STA, it was through South Texas Blood and Tissue, but she did have people in her life to help her through the grief of losing him. She said nearly two years after her son’s passing, it is still difficult to think about.
“I don’t think it gets easier, I think you just learn to carry it better,” she said. “You’re always going to miss them, and you’re always going to feel their absence no matter what. I think what I’ve learned is grief is a strange phenomenon.”
Both Contreras and Lemons recommend becoming an organ donor, as it can save someone’s life. You can sign up to become an organ donor through the STA website.